Marketers Try Out New Media With Small But Effective Campaigns

NEW YORK Even highly experienced marketers can be daunted by the current menu of new media options. The glossary of industry terms alone is a hefty course of alphabet soup. There are blogs, vlogs, podcasts, V-casts, WAP sites and RSS feeds. There is user-generated content, open-sourced branding, crowd-sourced branding, mobile marketing, social networking sites, virtual communities. Choosing a media plan and creating a strategy starts to feel like spinning a roulette wheel. Clearly, the race is on to capitalize on the recent explosion of emerging media. But how does any marketer know which of these channels best suits his or her brand’s marketing strategy? And, given that many of these outlets are so new—and are especially primitive in their application to marketing—how does a brand establish campaign goals and define clear measures of success? Those two key questions were put to the marketers in the five case studies that follow.

These marketing plans, which represent a cross-section of brands in technology, automotive, retail, sports and entertainment, as well as a diverse array of new and innovative marketing strategies, include a video-on-demand retail “circular”; a branded integration in Second Life; an open-sourced comic book; an NFL-themed mobile gaming initiative; and an eye-catching digital outdoor ad campaign.

Despite the variety, however, there were some common insights. Several of the case study participants observed, for example, that marketers who dip their toe into emerging media often not only must define the rules of engagement but also establish new guidelines for return on investment.

“Sometimes you just have to get out there and set benchmarks for yourself,” said Ann Rubin, director of integrated marketing communications at IBM, whose “Codestation” program in Second Life offers the software developer community an intellectual playground in a back-to-the-future setting. “The advantage of [a program like] Codestation is that you’re talking about spending small amounts of money. Of course, it’s easier for a company the size of IBM to take risks.”

But innovation can be found at companies large and small. Consider Palm, whose $21 million in measured media spending on its Treo Smartphones last year was less than one-tenth the size of IBM’s overall ad budget. Yet for the new Treo 680, Palm produced a digital outdoor campaign that got more than a few pedestrians to stop, look and listen to a giant image of the Treo offering a live demonstration of its Web capabilities.

That’s one thing that’s striking about so many of these campaigns: they’re downright cool. At first glance, Jeep’s partnership with Marvel Comics to build buzz for its new Patriot SUV, in which consumers could submit their own ideas for a soon-to-be-printed comic book, seems old school. But visitors to the PatriotAdventure site were greeted by a set of high-tech tools and slick full-color visuals that kept them engaged in the process. There was also the incentive of getting their name in print as one of the co-authors of the book. Jeep’s careful execution of the program was a deft maneuvering in a user-generated content category filled with potential minefields that may get tripped when the message is opened up to consumers.

Jeep didn’t garner thousands of submissions for its Patriot promotion (at press time it was around 600), but according to its marketers, that’s not the point. In fact, many of the case studies involved the use of emerging media to target a select but highly motivated audience. As a result, agency and marketing executives alike downplayed the importance of reach. “It’s the quality, stupid,” they said.

Jay Kuhnie, director of Jeep communications, summed it up for the rest of the group. “When you’re doing something new like this, it’s better to try to understand the quality of the engagement,” he said. “Otherwise, you might lose sight of the really good ideas.”

Click-on Bargains

America loves a bargain, which ex-plains why so many consumers are fond of clipping coupons and combing through the Sunday newspaper circulars. Soon, digital cable subscribers will be able to engage in a similar activity by using their remote controls to call up retailers’ ads on their TV screens. Shoppers, say hello to the “video circular.”

Video circulars are one of several new types of advertising formats that are being tailored to video-on-demand. Long touted as the next great frontier in satellite and cable TV advertising, VOD is becoming increasingly attractive for marketers as content providers try to keep pace with the rapid adoption of digital technology. Penetration of digital set-top boxes, now above 50 percent of all U.S. households, is expected to reach 80 percent within the next two years. Total VOD programming, meanwhile, is forecast to reach $8.7 billion in the U.S. by 2016, per Kagan Research.

In 2006, Comcast conducted a 13-week trial of its “Shop 887” video circular in the Atlanta market on behalf of retailers CompUSA, HHGregg, Macy’s, Thomasville Furniture and Wal-Mart. The test, delivered free to the advertisers from May 22 through Aug. 13, produced some encouraging results. Wal-Mart, for example, saw a measurable in-store sales lift in the product categories it had advertised in the video circular program. Wal-Mart’s experience provides an illustrative case study not only for retailers, but also for other types of marketers who might look to tap VOD as a long-form, or stand-alone, advertising medium.

“The opportunity for consumers to interact with brands is what makes this appealing,” said Starla West, group planning manager for new media at Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo. “Shop 887 shows you don’t need high production values to get consumers interested in long-form advertising.”

Ironically, the video circular is a new media format that relies on an old media platform. Still photos and product information are used in display-like ads set to generic background music, creating a no-nonsense sales tool that looks a lot like the newspaper version. Future iterations may be more enticing, but for now, it is less about entertaining consumers than guiding them through a new technology—one that requires more user interaction than, say, picking up the phone and ordering a sweater from QVC.

Comcast customers could reach the video catalog in one of two ways. The more complicated path required them to navigate through several screens, beginning with the cabler’s main VOD menu of movies, premium channels and more. Choosing the “searchlight” button brought viewers to the on-demand advertising panel, where selecting “Shopping” then called up the Shop 887 page. Subsequently, viewers could scroll through each of the retailers’ menus and select ads that ran anywhere from three to five minutes, around the clock, every day of the week.

Alternatively, viewers could input 8-8-7 on their remotes to bypass the menus and go directly to the Shop 887 landing page, a process known as “telescoping.” Comcast touted this feature in spots that it produced and tagged with the participating advertisers’ names. In one ad, a paperboy throws a newspaper in the owner’s birdbath, prompting the narrator’s warning: “Tired of missing this week’s sales? There’s a new channel for people like you.”

Giving consumers this direct option was a crucial step, according to West. “I’m skeptical that consumers are bored enough to flip through so many advertising channels,” she said, noting that while the technology does not yet exist to track the specific paths consumers took to the landing page, Comcast reported receiving spikes in viewership to Shop 887 after airing its retailer-tagged spots.

The test did, however, produce a wealth of user data. For example, of the 340,000 Comcast subscribers involved in the program, 22 percent viewed at least one Wal-Mart video ad, and 0.5 percent visited the unique URLs promoted in the videos. “That 0.5 percent is considered an acceptable Internet banner click-through rate, so we felt it was a strong figure,” noted West. Ads in the electronics and toy categories received the most overall views and the longest duration of viewership (the average viewership across seven categories was two minutes), a result consistent with the demographic profile and buying habits of VOD users in the Atlanta area.

The longer the ad, the more time consumers spent with it. Marketers in the VOD space should take note that consumers who are seeking information are more willing to spend time with an ad if it is relevant to their search.

Of course, the bottom line for the advertisers in this case was sales. While Wal-Mart would not divulge specific sales results from the program, “The resulting in-store sales lift fell within our projected range,” said West. As with any emerging media, it can be difficult to set those goals or expectations without a precedent, she noted.

Here again is where old media met new. “In this particular case,” said West, “since this product was positioned as an alternative to newspaper circulars, we used historical lift from the print circular as a benchmark.”

IBM Cracks the ‘Code’

It’s quite natural for some computer programmers to lead a solitary existence. After all, writing software codes and developing applications are painstaking tasks that require an undisturbed focus for long stretches of time. Still, members of this scientific community like to communicate with each other and exchange ideas among their peers.

IBM used this insight into the mindset of its target audience to build Codestation, a place where software developers can bond in the parallel online universe of Second Life. Part Star Trek, part Amazing Race, Codestation aims to engage Second Life users (called “avatars”) in a site experience that’s both challenging and fun. Sophisticated 3-D computer graphics create a highly realistic depiction of a futuristic world whose architecture harkens back to ancient Greece. There’s an amphitheater known as the Pavilion, where visitors can share their views in a virtual roundtable discussion; and a Labyrinth, where visitors must deploy their programming skills to eliminate bugs and modify “bots” (short for robots) to get through a complex maze. Think Pac-Man, on steroids.

As a marketing program, Codestation does not fit neatly into an established category. IBM’s ongoing effort, launched in February, contains aspects of real-world sponsorship and product placement, such as logo insertion. With signage and visual elements like a leaderboard, the Labyrinth is reminiscent of a videogame advertising environment. IBM also considers Codestation to be consistent with open-source branding. A Library, for example, allows users to upload source codes and create content for the entire community.

A relatively recent phenomenon, marketing in Second Life is still in the experimental stage. In the past year, companies including American Apparel, Starwood Hotels and Toyota have established a footprint on the site, and are generally employing the medium as a laboratory for developing a new product or brand in the real world. IBM, however, argues that such a strategy provokes backlash from users who may view a marketer’s presence as too intrusive or commercial.

“This was not meant to be an advertising program. We wanted to create something more organic and relevant to the users of Second Life,” said Maria Mandel, executive director of digital innovation at OgilvyInteractive, New York.

Jamison Duffield, copywriter on the Codestation program, added: “We found that when [previous companies] built a headquarters in Second Life, these were very cool architectural structures but they weren’t getting a lot of foot traffic.”

Exactly what constitutes “a lot” of traffic is relative, given that Second Life is a niche vehicle. In the past two months, for instance, the site has drawn about 1.2 million active users. But that’s not really the point. As with other forms of emerging media, marketers are hitching their wagons to Second Life to target a select audience that feels passionately about the activity in which they are engaged.

“This is not about impressions,” says Ann Rubin, director of IBM’s integrated marketing communications. “We’re not looking to attract millions of people [to Codestation]. We’re looking to engage the right people.”

Still, in this age of “show me the ROI,” it’s worth noting the inherent limits of measurement in virtual communities like Second Life. IBM can monitor the number of participants in Codestation at any given time (the overall average for the site is 20,000, according to Ogilvy) and quantify the number of people who download source codes, but the technology does not allow it to determine traditional Web site metrics such as page views or track the origin of IP addresses.

Without such data, IBM must find other ways to sample its audience. Marketers are considering setting up a kiosk inside the community and surveying participants on the quality of their experience. Of course, those tactics carry some inherent risks.

“If I were an avatar I would never go up to someone in Second Life without identifying myself,” said Rubin. “If users found out we had been probing them [anonymously], they would not be happy.”

Ogilvy also is monitoring feedback on blogs, which is where the agency derived some of its original ideas for the program. In one forum, for instance, it learned that coders do not like standard-issue or “cookie cutter” bots. That led to the creation of the Library, where IBM seeded an initial code to encourage people to upload their own ideas about how the bots can be modified.

Codestation remains a work in progress.

“It’s exploratory,” conceded Rubin. “How do we know it’s working? When you’re trying to innovate, sometimes you just have to get out there and set the benchmarks for yourselves.”

Comic-Book Hero Is a Gas

Cars often become indelible sidekicks for heroes on the big screen. It’s difficult to imagine James Bond without his Lotus roadster companion in The Spy Who Loved Me, or his BMW convertible in GoldenEye. Vehicles have also stood alongside comic book superheroes as larger-than-life characters. Back in 1965, Ford’s Lincoln Futura prototype rose to fame by becoming television’s first likeness of the original Batmobile.

Chrysler is taking things a step further in its open-source campaign for the new Jeep Patriot SUV. The automaker is about to unveil a consumer-generated Marvel comic book in which the car is the hero. Or at least one of them.

Jeep’s vehicle will figure prominently in the storyline of Marvel’s soon-to-be-released The Patriot Factor, which represents the culmination of one of the more adventurous—and adventure-filled—forays by marketers into open-source branding to date. Eight of the book’s 20 pages are the work of consumers who entered submissions at; the names of all of those winners will appear in print as co-authors of the book. The buzz-building effort coincided with a more traditional ad campaign surrounding last month’s Patriot launch.

As it turns out, the majority of PatriotAdventure entries have come from novices who may not have ever read, much less written, a comic book. But even the handful of graphic artists who entered their own professional illustrations along with dialogue were likely to have been impressed with the Web site’s slick features. Users could swiftly toggle from page to page and click on a snazzy tool bar to reveal how storyboards evolved from pencil drawings to ink versions to fully colorized panels. Page templates were continually updated as winners were chosen for a particular section, and forums were created so that visitors could view and comment on each other’s work.

To be sure, the pitfalls of such user-generated marketing efforts are well established. One year ago, for example, General Motors was forced to publicly confront the venom of consumers who responded to calls for entries in an open-source ad campaign for the Chevrolet Tahoe with missives like, “Our Planet’s Oil Is Almost Gone. You Don’t Need GPS To See Where This Road Leads.”

Jeep marketers were not about to let that history repeat itself.

“You have to give consumers some context. It’s open-sourced, yes, but it shouldn’t be wide open,” said Adam Wilson, creative director at Organic, New York. “We have certain responsibilities as stewards of the brand.”

To that end, the agency gave consumers some clear guideposts for the storyline, which follows four main characters in a web of intrigue that Jeep is billing as along the lines of a Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum novel. Working with Marvel writers, Organic created the first five pages of the comic book and planted additional scenes intermittently throughout the story. Consumers could fill in the gaps in any way they saw fit, with one caveat: Whatever schemes they hatched had to include a role for the Patriot.

Jeep had already set a precedent. In one of those early scenes, protagonist Joe Starks uses the vehicle’s flip-down speakers to play a movie soundtrack with a police siren to chase away the evil doers who kidnapped his friend, Ryan Singer. A more subtle reminder of the vehicle’s attributes came when Starks is able to maneuver the Patriot down a narrow alleyway that is impassable to the bad guys who are chasing him in two huge black SUVs. Read between the lines: Patriot, an entry-level crossover, is built leaner and meaner to appeal to the brand’s young male target audience.

Still, Marvel and Organic vigorously debated the level of product placement. “We actually had to dial each other back a few times on how blatantly to use the vehicle,” Wilson noted.

Consumers, too, didn’t always hit their marks. “The range of creativity was pretty astounding. Some entries were ludicrous and some were really good,” said Wilson. “It was tough to choose the winners.”

One compelling entry had the characters getting drawn into a clone farm. Though it veered from the existing story, the plot was deemed so appealing that the creative team worked it into the story as a red herring. Another winner involved a simple bit of dialogue to herald the arrival of the comic’s heroine, Natalie. “You should have seen the car I drove in on,” she quips, in a line that almost seems to rise to the level of “Make my day!”

In setting goals for the campaign, Jeep marketers said they were far more interested in the quality of the ideas than tracking the total number of submissions (which at press time were about 600).

“Quantity does matter, but when you’re doing something new like this, it’s better to try to understand the quality of the engagement,” says Jay Kuhnie, director of Jeep communications. “Otherwise you might lose sight of the really good ideas.”

Wilson added that on social networking sites like MySpace, only about 3 percent to 4 percent of users are actually creating content; the rest are simply acting as voyeurs. “Our site is on par with, or exceeds, that ratio,” he says, noting that the average time of 9 to 14 minutes that consumers spent on PatriotAdventure, as compared with other branded content sites, “is huge.”

That particular metric, perhaps. The Patriot itself—definitely not.

In the late 1970s, a handheld game from Coleco called Electronic Quarterback created an obsession among sports-obsessed kids. It’s a wonder carpal tunnel syndrome didn’t appear among its users, given the furious double-thumbed movements required to send the coveted toy’s action figure (in those days, a tiny red dash lit up by an LED display) up and down the field.

Today, sports-obsessed adults have a handset option that gets them back into the game, only this time on their cell phones. It involves a wireless game application called AirPlay.

AirPlay offers consumers a chance to play along with major league sports teams in real time on their mobile phones. The San Francisco-based gamemaker has select distribution deals with cellular phone providers and licensing agreements with the National Football League and the National Basketball Assn. During this past NFL season, for example, Sprint customers who downloaded the AirPlay NFL Live application from the gamemaker’s Web site to their phones could hang out in front of the tube calling the shots: selecting who’d get the ball, whether it would be run or passed. Each time a player made the right call, they would win points that could be redeemed for prizes and bragging rights. The cost to use the game is minimal, about $4 per month or $10 for the entire season.

There is a growing market for this kind of activity. Consider: Of the 227 million mobile phone users in the U.S., 17.4 million (about 8 percent) downloaded a game to their cell phones during the fourth quarter of 2006, a 45 percent jump from the previous year, per mobile research firm Telephia. To win over a fair number of Sprint’s 53.7 million U.S. customers, however, AirPlay would have to inspire a football watching public more accustomed to using their hands for lifting a beer or grabbing the remote than inputting plays on their cell phone.

Thus, the gamemaker turned to San Francisco agency Mediasmith to help build awareness for AirPlay and drive consumers to its Web site. Given the client’s limited budget, the agency chose not to try to “drive awareness and conversion across a huge audience,” said account director Derek Leedy. “[Our campaign] was segmented to discover the most efficient medium to reach and convert the target.”

During three ad flights from November to January, Mediasmith tested a mixture of mobile and online ads, as well as traditional radio ads and other marketing techniques, to determine which method had the lowest cost per customer acquisition ratio. “We figured people who were actively engaged with their phones would be more receptive to the game, and have a higher response to the message in mobile ads than in search or banner campaigns,” Leedy said. “They are already sensitized to utilize [their phones as] a third screen for news and entertainment.”

The mobile ads were text-based banners that would appear on users’ screens whenever they visited a sports site. Selecting the portion that read “click here to play” would send users to a WAP, or mobile phone enabled, version of AirPlay’s Web site where they could download the application. The agency simultaneously tested online banner ads on niche fantasy sites like and, as well as on broader sports sites, including CBS

In setting goals for the mobile portion of the campaign, Mediasmith used established online metrics as a baseline: an average banner click-through rate of 0.5 percent and a conversion rate of 25 percent. “We expected to at least match these figures through the mobile campaign,” said Leedy. “For every dollar we spent, we saw a 20 percent [lower] cost per subscriber through the mobile efforts versus the [online] banners and other campaigns.”

Additionally, radio ads aired during sports programming in a single market (Kansas City, Mo.) with a high concentration of Sprint customers. That particular tactic did not produce great results. “The transition from radio to visiting a Web site and then initiating a download was too many steps for a new product,” noted Leedy. Likewise, the guerrilla effort, which involved street teams sent into bars to conduct demos of the game, garnered valuable consumer feedback but had a limited reach.

AirPlay itself, meanwhile, is gaining traction as a mobile advertising vehicle. In its current deal with the NBA (which has been extended to also include Verizon and Cingular customers), the company signed Toyota as a presenting sponsor. Toyota’s logo appears on users’ screens in conjunction with leaderboards, for example, and in banner ads and interstitials during the game.

While consumers may not like seeing ads on their phone, conceded Chris Bull, vp-marketing at AirPlay in San Francisco, it’s all part of the game for sports fans. “It’s natural for [sports programming] to include commercial breaks,” he said, “so contextually it makes more sense.”

In the Palm of Their Hands

PALMIn The Palm of Their HandsIn the Palm of Their Hands

There are those who consider digital billboards—with their excessively bright lights and flashing signs—a hazard for highway drivers. But these fanciful ads that rotate, emit sounds and do all sorts of tantalizing tricks are readily accepted by pedestrians in major metro areas.

Which is why, when a marketer like Palm enters an urban jungle with an innovative outdoor campaign that captures the attention of its jaded denizens, you know it is on to something.

Last December, as part of the global launch of the Treo 680 Smartphone, Palm took to the streets with interactive kiosks capable of producing a live demo of the product. Situated in storefront windows and on bus shelters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the ads featured a giant image of the sleek new device and copy that instructed curious onlookers to enter an SMS text code into their cell phones to obtain information on a category such as sports or weather. Once entered, the codes triggered a flash video with a live feed to a Web browser that sent updated news and information to each location. Bus riders bored while waiting for their morning ride could pass the time with some instant billboard Web surfing.

Palm chose this digital medium because it delivered the brand’s message of intuitive functionality. A core focus group insight was that once consumers got the product in their hands, they were impressed by what it could do. Hence the tag, “Not just a cell phone. A Treo.”

“Emerging media is just another element of the marketing mix,” said Scott Hancock, director of marketing communications at Palm in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The digital kiosks were supplemented with conventional billboards and demos conducted by street teams as part of Palm’s $25 million global campaign for the new Treo. The device, which sells for as low as $199 with purchase of a Cingular Wireless service package, is being marketed to a broader target audience than the professional, and includes a (slightly more female) demo dubbed “mobile accomplishers.”

“Treo 680 is for anyone who leads a busy professional life or is running a home,” said Hancock. “Our brand is an underdog in the smartphone category; we’re outspent by competitors in multiples. So, we’re big on becoming a discovery brand.”

To initiate more discovery, Palm used the digital displays to urge consumers to visit a microsite,, where urban pedestrian scenes provided a backdrop for clicking on additional demos of the device. Palm’s agency, AKQA, San Francisco, partnered with Internet brands including Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Orbitz, Amazon and Fandago (along with TiVo) to extend the media buy with print ads and outdoor ads in additional cities including Chicago, Philadelphia and Austin, Texas. In the case of Google, the monetary partnership also produced a version of Google Maps optimized for the Treo handset.

The goal of the campaign was to generate awareness, said Hancock. He acknowledged that Palm was limited in what they could measure, since the company was not able to capture impressions.

“But anecdotally,” he said, “we know that there were a substantial number of captive viewers who watched the autoplay version of the kiosk content.” In addition, he said, “the sports, news and movies features represented nearly half of all SMS interactions recorded, which further assisted us in the goal of educating consumers about features beyond phone and e-mail.”

As for sales, it’s still too early to tell. But perhaps one of the benefits of doing a cutting edge campaign is that the brand is then perceived as cutting edge, as well. According to Hancock, the campaign increased awareness of the brand by double digits. “Palm continues to be seen as innovative, intelligent and creative,” he said. “This campaign supported those attributes.”

Michael Applebaum is a former senior features editor at Brandweek who writes about marketing for Adweek Magazines.